‘Green shoots’ emerge in failing Liverpool children’s services

“Green shoots” are emerging in Liverpool Council’s children’s services department almost a year on from a damning Ofsted inspection.

In May last year, the city council was rocked by the findings of a shocking inspection by education officials which deemed its services for young people to be ‘inadequate’ citing serious weaknesses that left children ‘being harmed or at risk of harm.’ Department of Education (DfE) representatives have since conducted their initial six month review into progress at the Cunard Building.

In a letter to Andrew Lewis, Liverpool Council chief executive, Samantha Morrison, DfE local authority intervention case lead, said the government is “encouraged” by work to date to turn things around.

Ofsted’s assessment meant the city council’s children’s services department was deemed inadequate in four out of five of the key areas – including the overall rating. Analysing the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families, the education watchdog said the council had shown “insufficient prioritisation and pace in tackling critical areas necessary to enable improvement.”

The first review was held in November last year, with Ms Morrison’s letter to be discussed by members of the children and young people scrutiny committee when it meets at the Town Hall next week. Writing to Mr Lewis, Ms Morrison said: “It is clear that the council’s administration and senior leaders are ambitious and committed to improving children’s services in Liverpool. 

“Since the appointment of the new children’s leadership team, Liverpool have begun to put in place the appropriate foundations, with staff beginning to see some early signs of improvement.”

Ms Morrison said staff acknowledged challenges lay ahead and morale was “variable across teams” with changing expectations said to have been “difficult to navigate” for some. Additionally, the DfE executive said her department was assured the council was aware caseloads remain too high for some staff and is taking the necessary action to reduce them.

“Anxiety” had been expressed by some across the workforce, Ms Morrison said overall it felt like teams were “less chaotic” with an understanding that changes would improve the service. She wrote, “There are green shoots with regards to staff working on action plans which they know contribute to the overarching improvement plan and staff could articulate how they fed into one another.”

Setting out how further improvements can be made, the intervention officer wrote how “significant financial investment” made by the council showed positive signs of commitment to progress and “sustaining this commitment will be crucial to the service’s improvement journey. She added, “The council should consider how it can address some of the key issues which affect the service, such as IT, accessibility, HR and equipment, as these were regularly discussed as barriers to providing an effective service.”

While staff recognised the immediate need to bring in managed teams to improve workloads, it was clear that a preference existed for more experienced permanent social workers. Ms Morrison said: “I hope that Liverpool continues to build on the improvements seen to date and we continue to see progress in the areas set out in this letter. “

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